A gaggle of tourists near Big Ben starts pointing. Small groups form on Westminster Bridge as passersby stop to see what’s causing the commotion. Before long, the crowd has thickened so much that people are hustling to find a space; they spill into the road from the pavement, their hands clasped over their mouths, their eyes cartoonishly bulging.
Frantically, they all start snapping away on their camera-phones, desperate for photographic proof of what they are seeing: a boy in the Thames, in the water, wearing a red jacket. But he is not drowning; instead he’s walking on the waves. The crowd calls out to him. Some capture the moment on video, so they can upload it to YouTube later. One of the clips is captioned “God in Disguise”.
Magic is an emotion; it’s the feeling you get when you witness something you can’t explain. That’s what the magician Dynamo thinks. “Like when your first child is born, or you score a goal,” he burrs in his soft Yorkshire accent. Or the feeling you get at that point in the day when the sun’s turned everything golden, and you see a boy, arms outstretched, walking on sparkling water. Magic, thinks Dynamo, is not a science, it is an art. A tool he uses to evoke a feeling.
There are three reasons why you are likely to have heard of the illusionist. The first is his epic, miraculous stunts. In 2012, a year after he walked on water in London, he strolled vertically down the side of the art deco headquarters of the Los Angeles Times, as pedestrians gawped up at him. In 2013 he circled London hanging off the top of a 15ft-high double-decker bus, with just his outstretched right arm holding him up. This September, he floated 1,016ft in the sky over the Shard, Europe’s tallest skyscraper.
The second reason you might know him is because he has a huge celebrity following: Lindsay Lohan, Samuel L Jackson, Chris Martin, Will Smith and Pharrell Williams are among his fans. He’s performed for Rihanna, levitated Matt Lucas, and Cristiano Ronaldo flew him to Madrid to perform at his birthday party. And the third reason is that he has set himself apart from the traditional magician. Dynamo is a street illusionist who looks like a normal kid in a hoodie rather than a pantomime warlock in a tux and top hat. He uses rappers and DJs in his act and performs his tricks in shopping centres and council estates, while body-popping to beats.
With 2.2m Twitter devotees and 4.1m Facebook fans, he is now the most followed magician in the world. His Bafta-nominated television series, Magician Impossible, airs in 187 countries to an audience of 250m. It’s a fly-on-the-wall documentary of sorts, which follows him as he wows celebrities and performs illusions for kids in the street, leaving them gasping with astonishment.
Dynamo is late for our interview, lost. He’s been driving his Mercedes G Wagon aimlessly around south London, so by the time he arrives he’s 40 minutes behind schedule. Which somehow allays my fears that he’ll be a telepathic super-genius who’ll be able to read my mind and predict all my questions.
He is tiny, much smaller than I expected. A slight, boyish figure (although he is 31), with dark scruffy hair, a pallid face and dark circles under intense turquoise eyes. He is wearing a hoodie, as is his way, although it’s a look he insists isn’t contrived. He just “couldn’t afford to get a nice fancy suit” when he started out. “We lived in Bradford and I didn’t have much money.” Now he’s loaded, he still wears a tracksuit — even if this one is by Dior. “Now I’ve got a bit of money, I’ve been trying to build up a wardrobe,” he shrugs shyly. “To be honest, when you grow up as a kid on an estate all you aspire to is owning a pair of sick trainers.”
Dynamo was seven when he saw his first magic trick. His great-grandad (who he called “Grandad”) showed him two matchboxes: one containing red matches, the other green. He got Dynamo — then still plain old Steven Frayne — to mix up the matches so the boxes each contained both colours. Then his grandfather snapped his fingers, magically, and when Steven opened the boxes the colours had separated themselves again. “I still don’t know how he did it,” says Dynamo, grinning. Somehow, I doubt that.
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